Think you know how to cook sausage on the grill? We tapped an expert for tips on what makes grilled sausage truly great—just in time for a socially distant tailgating season (and an al fresco Oktoberfest at home while you’re at it).
Nothing says summer like grilling up some sausage—but it’s a pursuit you can continue to enjoy into fall. With a vast spectrum of options at your fingertips be it pork, poultry, beef, or beyond blended with herbs and spices, plus the occasional add-in like apple, jalapeño or cheddar, there’s truly an option for everyone.
Schaller & Weber Sausages, $79+ from Goldbelly
Cooking your tube of meat (or plant-based filling) is a relatively stress-free affair, but to achieve that crisp (but not burnt) outer char and juicy (but not raw) interior, a game plan is in order.
We spoke to Jesse Denes, Vice President of Schaller & Weber, Manhattan’s premier purveyor of German-style sausages since 1937, for his expert tips and tricks on how to grill your brats, kielbasa, and spicy Italians to perfection.
Related Reading: Everything You Ned to Know About Grilling Meat
Know Your Sausage
“First things first, you need to figure out if you’re dealing with a pre-cooked sausage or a fresh sausage,” says Denes. “That’s going to change things significantly.”
If you’re handling fresh meat, carve out more time on the grill and be extra vigilant about cooking your sausage all the way through. A more delicate touch is also advised. “Fresh sausage is a lot looser and it’s a lot easier to lose some of that fat and moisture,” he reasons. “The casings aren’t necessarily as tight.”
Related Reading: How to Make Your Own Sausage
Do Not Puncture!
Denes pokes holes in the theory that you should prick your sausage casing before grilling. Doing so will provide an escape hatch for that precious flavorful fat to ooze out, leaving you with a sad, dry hunk of meat.
“It may rip itself naturally during cooking. That’s fine,” Denes notes. “Normally when it gets to that point… you know it’s done.”
Simmer Down Now
A poorly grilled sausage tends to be charred on the outside and lukewarm on the inside. To ensure a consistent cook, consider a quick bath before sparking up the grill.
“Our best trick is to bring the sausage to temperature in water,” says Denes, who recommends a 10 minute simmer. “The whole idea is you want to get it cooked through pretty evenly before you start to crisp up the outside. So you get that snap and that bite and a little bit of that char.”
If you don’t have access to a pot of hot water, going full grill is fine too. Place the sausage over indirect heat, shut the lid, and cook for 10 minutes. Denes warns, “If you just cook it straight over the direct heat, what you’re going to wind up doing is burning it or drying it out.”
Drinking beer and grilling sausage go hand in hand, so why not take that pairing to the next level? “If you want to add a little flavor, boil your sausages off in beer,” says Denes. “It gets a nice lager flavor into the sausage.”
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Hot, Hot Heat
Now that your sausages are evenly cooked inside, it’s time to get that coveted crisp on the casing, hopefully with those signature grill marks.
The best way to achieve this is with the heat cranked up to 11. “Once you’ve got your sausage over the direct flame, lid up,” per Denes.
Turn! Turn! Turn!
Keep an eye on your sausage as it grills. After the first side gets a nice sear, do three quarter turns so that the entire surface gets a nice sear.
“If your sausage will allow you, maybe do half turns and a minute or two a side,” Denes recommends.
Time Is Relative
“It’s tough to give timing because every meat is different, the diameter of the sausage is different,” Denes notes. “So there’s not a tried and fast rule, unfortunately.” Obviously a slender hot dog will cook quicker than a fat brat.
The best thing to do is remain vigilant—the eye test is key. “Once you start to see some juices sputtering out the end or if it rips, it’s definitely done,” says Denes.
Take The Temperature
With pre-cooked sausage, you’re already covered when it comes to eating safely. But if you’re grilling fresh meat, be sure that pork and poultry links both reach an internal temperature of 165°F to eradicate any harmful bacteria. Beef is best at 160°F.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer and you’re cooking fresh sausage, Denes recommends cutting into it before serving just to be safe. “You want to make sure that the center is no longer pink.”
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A massive burst of flame whooshes up from your grill. Once is more than enough, and if you’re seeing multiple flare-ups, it’s a signal your sausages are good to go. “Get it off of the grill,” Denes warns. “It’s probably spilling a bunch of fat.”
Related Reading: Avoid These Grilling Mistakes for Perfect Meat Every Time
Warm Your Buns
“It’s always nice to throw the bun on the grill,” says Denes who prefers to start with a couple of minutes over indirect heat to get the bread nice and toasty. “If you want to cut your bun down the center with a little butter then throw that on top of the direct heat for a second, that’s really nice.”
At Schaller’s Stube, Schaller & Weber’s sausage bar spinoff, pretzel is the bun of choice but Denes acknowledges it all comes down to personal preference. In fact, over in Germany, sausages are traditionally served up au natural. “They’re not even going to serve it on the bun,” laughs Denes. “It’ll have a bread roll next to it, but putting it in a bun is kind of ridiculous to them.”
Denes leans towards topping his sausage with the traditional German condiments of mustard and sauerkraut, preferably cold for the temperature contrast. “I just like the nice crisp bite,” he swoons. “I like the play of the hot and the cold on the tongue.”
You also can’t go wrong with peppers and onions, which Denes tends to saute in an oiled pan. Have them join the party on the grill inside of a grill basket, but he cautions that it may take longer to soften them than it will to heat your meat.
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The Final Word
“My biggest suggestion is make sure you don’t dry your sausage out,” says Denes. “That’ll just ruin your barbecue.” Oh, one more thing: “And lots of beer. You’ve got to keep lubricated.”